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Redland Brick may replace union workers

July 23, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

WILLIAMSPORT - Redland Brick Co. will begin to hire replacement workers to work in the manufacturing plant unless striking union workers approve a contract offer today.

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The process of advertising for and interviewing replacement workers has begun and they will be hired should it become necessary, Redland President and CEO James Vinke said Thursday.

Redland has been shut down since June 18, when members of Teamsters Local 992 voted to strike after their contract with the company expired.

The company already has hired some temporary workers to ship bricks and pavers to customers but no new stock has been made since the strike began.

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"We can't afford to let the plant sit idle," Vinke said.

Should the 180 Teamsters who work at the plant fail to vote or vote but reject the proposal, talks will continue, he said.

Future company offers will factor in money the company has lost as a result of the strike, Vinke said.

Despite the presence of a federal mediator, a negotiating session between the union and company was unsuccessful Wednesday.

The company's current offer received support from union negotiators when it was put on the table in June, Vinke said.

Workers voted against ratification, complaining about benefits and vacation policies.

That offer will be withdrawn after today, according to Vinke.

"Five weeks is enough time," he said.

No formal vote has been scheduled for today but union members are expected to meet. If enough members agree, a vote could be called for, said Glenn Jordan, shop steward.

If a vote were taken it might turn out as it did in June, he said.

"A lot of people feel the same way," Jordan said.

"Common sense should tell them (Redland) they're not going to settle for less," he said.

Strikers were notified of Redland's ultimatum in a letter, which said replacement workers may be hired permanently, Jordan said.

Jordan called the company's threat to hire replacement workers a "scare tactic."

"They're bluffing," he said.

Since the economy is healthy, it may be difficult to find competent replacements, he said.

If Redland does go through with it, union workers will see red, said Jordan.

"They'll be furious," he said.

Vinke said the company has been harmed by the work stoppage.

Some customers are not willing to put up with delays or substitutions and are finding other suppliers, he said.

He refused to say how much the company has lost in revenue.

Vinke wasn't sure how long it would take to train new workers to get the plant up and running.

The company eventually will operate the plant on two shifts as it had previously, he said.

The company isn't the only one that has suffered because of the strike, Jordan said.

Jordan said he has lost $3,000 in wages and benefits in the five weeks since the strike began.

Workers have been receiving $55 a week in strike pay, he said.

Jordan said the union has shown a willingness to compromise. During Wednesday's negotiating session, Teamsters' representatives said they would be willing to end the strike and go back to work if they could continue discussions on insurance, vacations and the absentee policy during the next six months, he said.

That company rejected that suggestion, according to Jordan.

Jordan said workers fear that if they accept the same offer they previously rejected, the company will not take them seriously in future negotiations.

"It's come to a matter of pride on both sides, and neither wants to give in," he said.

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